Thomas Pollock’s review published on Letterboxd:
‘West Side Story’ takes off in a Shakespearian outlet in the modern world with the implementation of several things from Romeo & Juliet. I must say it is a terrifc portrayal Romeo & Juliet and as predictable as it is, the film still has surprises. If you know the story well you will understand who is being who in the story. Like how Maria is obviously Juliet and so on. This musical feels ahead of it’s time in an indescribable way because of it’s storytelling and choreography. With lyrics from Stephen Sondheim and the director of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, a decade earlier is a finely choreographed musical that is captivating and beautiful.
We are introduced to two rival street gangs: the Jets, second-generation American teens, and the Sharks, Puerto Rican immigrants. When the war between the Jets and Sharks reaches a fever pitch, Jets leader Riff (Russ Tamblyn) decides to challenge the Sharks to one last "winner take all" rumble. He decides to meet Sharks leader Bernardo (George Chakiris) for a war council at a gymnasium dance; to bolster his argument, Riff wants his old pal Tony (Richard Beymer), the cofounder of the Jets, to come along. However, Tony has set his sights on vistas beyond the neighbourhood and has fallen in love with Bernardo's sister, Maria (Natalie Wood), a love that, as in Romeo and Juliet, will eventually end in tragedy.
In contrast to the usual slash-and-burn policy of Hollywood musical adaptations, all the songs written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim for the original Broadway production of West Side Story were retained for the film version, although some alterations were made to appease the Hollywood censors, and the original order of two songs was reversed for stronger dramatic impact. The movie retains the great choreography, and what fine work it was too from choreographer Jeremy Robbins, co-director of this film. What made the dancing nice was how the action made use of it. In one scene, dance is used to exaggerate the action and it makes for a fine scene. From the first moments of the film, we see clever and unique choreography that certainly impresses with fun.
The film certainly is not the typical movie musical, and follows a very play theatrical style n a pleasant way. The basis of the story is very much from Romeo & Juliet but actually has a few differences with it, which I shall call nameless for now. As for the characters, I enjoyed what they did. Tony of course is Romeo and Maria is Juliet, but along that, we have Maria’s brother Bernardo who is the Tybalt of the story. Then we have Tony’s friend Riff who is Mercutio. There are several other characters that take after Romeo & Juliet’s ones, but to keep things short, I will leave them nameless. What I loved about the cast is the performances they gave were just plain great. That goes for Wood, Beymer, Ned Glass and the rest of the gang members. The film ultimately deals with a tad of racism which is something that still lurked about during the stage play release so there is a cynical kind of truth to it’s story. I will say no more than that about that aspect of the film.
The whole romance of the story is cliché yet elegant. This probably is the best adaption of Romeo & Juliet to hit the screen because of it’s solid characters, drama and plot. Stories of love and romance stretch back thousands of years and Romeo and Juliet is one of the pioneering ones that thousands of stories after it lent from it’s concept. I loved what Sondheim did with the lyrics and the songs felt very much unique, catchy and at times fun. I also loved the musical scores from Bernstein. The film went home taking 10 academy awards some of which being best picture, best original score and even best cinematography. One thing for sure is ‘West Side Story’ is a resonant musical with great dancing, singing and is overall beautiful.